Revisiting

I’ve been thinking about revisiting some discographies lately, mainly the ones of bands I used to listen to obsessively back in my youth. One of the inspirations for this was the reissue of REM’s Chronic Town EP a few weeks ago, their first release on the IRS label.

I’ve always been an early-era fan of the band up to and including 1988’s Green, and it’s been ages since I’ve listened to those first albums other than hearing the occasional single on the radio (usually “The One I Love” or “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, but occasionally I’ll hear “Superman” as well). Me and my high school friends were big fans of the band and taped each other’s copies of their albums into our own collections. But I haven’t listened to Lifes Rich Pageant in ages, and I used to play that one a ton in my college years.

So how is this different from any other time I obsess over 80s alternative rock? Well, instead of slinking back into the memory banks to relive those times or attempting to work on the Walk in Silence book, this is just…for fun, just like before.

I think part of it is tied into what I was talking about in the previous post, in which I find myself so constantly wrapped up in New Releases every week that few songs are actually sticking in my head. Which leads to the question: how is it that these REM songs (and Smiths songs, and Love and Rockets songs, and so on) stick like Gorilla Glue where the new songs don’t?

I think it’s partly because I’m not allowing those new songs to anchor themselves in the first place. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to do that somehow. The focus has gone from the music to the procurement of it. Which of course feeds into my obsessive tendencies, but doesn’t really move me emotionally, does it?

I’ve been trying to figure out how to change that these last few months. How do I let these songs into my psyche when I’ve forgotten how to do that? What do they have to anchor to? Moments in time, memories in the making? So many of those songs are fleeting, great to listen to but never quite moving me emotionally. Produced too clean, given airplay to a station that smothers us with its constant repetition. Caught in a race with millions of other songs, all trying to enter my subconscious at the same time.

It’s time to revisit how I made them stick in the first place. Allowing the song to percolate and simmer for a while in my mind, to allow it to latch onto a moment in my life. Keeping myself from getting constantly distracted by yet another song that sneaks up behind it. Allow the song to become a part of my own personal and private world rather than chasing after several songs at once as they go by.

Rethinking the Mixtape

The Memorex dBS 90 minute tape, my cassette of choice for several of my mixtapes.

I’ve been terrible about making mixtapes this year. By this point I’ve got at least three or four ready to go, but for one reason or another I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve got a few false starts with maybe six or seven songs, but that’s about it.

I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m just throwing a bunch of songs together but not always listening to them. Part of that has to do with my obsessive listening to KEXP when I can, but it also has to do with my even more obsessive habit of consuming new releases. I’ve focused too much on the New Stuff and not allowed that many songs to jump out at me and blow my mind. Sure, there have been a few over the last couple of years, but not nearly as much as before.

So I’ve been contemplating a mixtape rethink. I do like the format idea I’d come up with some years back of strictly following the forty-five-minutes-a-side rule, which makes it fun and creative, especially when I spend a good amount of time shifting the order of those mp3s until it sounds great to me. But again…what about the music that jumps out at me? The songs that make me focus on them?

I’ve been thinking about how I did this in the spring of 1988, when I finally took the plunge and planned out three mixes instead of leaning on the randomly created ‘radio tapes’ that I’d been making for the last several years. It was a learning curve, sure…a few questionable songs, a few terrible transitions, but listenable nonetheless. [I’d drop the themed bit soon after, finding it too restrictive at the time. I’d do themed ones later on, mostly ‘soundtracks’ to my novel projects in progress.] Thesaurus in hand, I came up with three themes based on my listening habits at the time: songs to listen to at top volume (Stentorian Music), songs that lean heavily on electronics (Preternatural Synthetics) and quiet and/or “dark” songs to listen to late at night (Cimmerian Candlelight).

Stentorian Music, created 20 May 1988.
Preternatural Synthetics, created 20 May 1988.
Cimmerian Candlelight, created 1 June 1988.

It’s something I’d like to do over again. Start fresh, give myself a tight focus on the mixes. Songs that set a specific mood or setting. Songs that blow my mind. Songs that I’ve rediscovered. I think one of my downfalls over the recent years is that the mixes tend to focus tightly on brand spankin’ new tunes and very rarely introducing older tracks. In retrospect I think that kind of limits what I want to listen to, really. Allow myself to add a song I haven’t heard in years, or an older song that some station slipped my way. Stop being so restrictive about it.

Yeah, I know…it’s been over thirty years since I created those three mixtapes and changed how I listened to music, but honestly: is that really a concern, when I’m still obsessed over music at this age, to this extent? I’ll always embrace music, no doubt about that. I don’t see myself drifting away from it anytime soon. And I think that making a new generation, a new brand of mixtapes for myself is just what I need to do to give it a refresh.

As soon as I have more, I’ll let you know, Spotify playlist and all.

You see us as you want to see us…

…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.

Every time I hear some blowhard talk about how these children are too young to understand — be it gender, race, sexuality, or any other bugbear that scares the bejeezus out of conservatives these days — it always reminds me just how many movies out there have been made about those same children understanding just fine and it’s the closed-minded adults who aren’t listening or paying attention.

It makes me think of Over the Edge, that 1979 film with a super young Matt Dillon, about a small nowhere town where there’s nothing to do, the cops don’t trust the kids, and the parents refuse to understand why they’re acting the way they are.

It makes me think of Times Square, a 1980 film about two teenage runaways from opposite sides of NYC and how they’re both cast off, ignored and expected to conform.

It reminds me of Pump Up the Volume — a 1990 film with a whole lot of parallels to Over the Edge about, you guessed it, bored teens in a small town full of adults who won’t listen to them.

It reminds me of Permanent Record, a 1988 film about a teen’s suicide, his friends’ reactions, and the adults’ reticence about talking with them about it.

And of course, it reminds me of The Breakfast Club, the classic teen flick about kids figuring themselves out because the adults in charge are certainly doing a shit-ass job helping them.

They all have a similar theme: the kids might not be totally alright, but they’re trying as hard as they fucking can to make it through with minimal damage…all while dealing with Adults With The Best Of Intentions who obviously aren’t listening or paying attention.

I always think of those films (and soundtracks) when I see state leaders threatening to shut down any mention of the word ‘gay’, or passing laws essentially outlawing treatment for trans teens, or any other bullshit they’re on this week. It reminds me of being a teen and discovering nonconformity for the first time. It reminds me of not being able to truly be myself for fear of reprisal from adults or other teens.

And it reminds me of growing up as a teen, looking for answers but also knowing that the adults are going to give me what they think I need to hear, which might hurt more than help.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years III

After some time avoiding my roommate and getting to know other people in my dorm who were more chill and less hipster — and occasionally heading home on the Fitchburg line train to get my head together and maybe meet up with T for an afternoon — I think I finally figured out where I was going. Or at least found a goal to aim for, at any rate. I may not have gotten the radio station position I wanted (that would come next semester) but I did find a work-study day job at the school that would bring many fond memories and calm moments.

The Emerson College library at the time was at 150 Beacon, a half-block up from our ‘campus’ center and the parking spot for the school shuttle. It was five floors and a basement squeezed into a former mansion — the only stairway that reached all six floors was the servant’s, where the old-school iron-gate elevator was — and it was the perfect place to hide if you wanted to study without being bothered by anyone. And down in the drafty and often chilly basement was the Media Center, which held a few classrooms, the music library, and a few a/v suites shoehorned in as well. That was my job for all four years plus two summers: hanging down there at its front desk, taking classroom reservations, setting up videos and 16mm films for the film teachers, and recording the daily newscasts for the TV teachers. It became my haven and my hiding place and one of my favorite places to be. To this day I still have occasional dreams about it, even though the building’s long been sold off and divided into condos.

Happy Mondays, Hallelujah EP, released 1 November 1989. This, I think, was my official introduction to what would soon become known as Britpop. I remember hearing this on WMDK one evening when I’d gone home for a weekend break, and the DJ was super excited about the ‘new sound’ coming out of England that was steeped in club grooves but still maintained its rock swagger. I instantly fell in love with its psychedelic grooviness and that it was just so out there, totally different from the moody post-punk college rock I’d been mainlining for the last few years yet not flippant and lightweight like most dance pop was at the time. While most alt-rock stations were looking westward towards Seattle, I was once again looking eastward towards London.

The Stone Roses, ‘Fools Gold’ single, released 13 November 1989. Soon after the Mondays came another Manchester band, one I was more familiar with from its debut album released just a few months earlier. (I didn’t initially lump them in with the Britpop sound as they felt more like a post-punk/garage band hybrid to me at the time.) I instantly fell in love with the nine-minute 12″ version of this song for its blissed-out groove jam as well as its janky drum loop. This one often reminds me of my years working at the college library, as WFNX would play it quite often.

Morrissey, ‘Ouija Board, Ouija Board’ single, released 13 November 1989. Out of all his between-album singles of the time, I probably liked this one the best because it was just a simple quirky oddity squeezed in between the political ‘Interesting Drug’ and the overindulgent ‘November Spawned a Monster’. It’s a throwaway, but it’s a fun throwaway.

The Primitives, Pure, released 14 November 1989. This band’s second album lightened up slightly on the sugary flower-pop sound and leaned a bit heavier on the rock that drove their initial hit “Crash”. There’s some really great deep cuts on this album and I don’t listen to it nearly enough as I should.

Ministry, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, released 14 November 1989. The album between the college radio favorite The Land of Rape and Honey and the breakthrough Psallm 69 gets overlooked a lot, and I think it’s partly because it’s a ‘more of the same’ record, but it’s got some great tracks on it that got some major radio play on WFNX at the time. I tended to listen to this one on my headphones whenever my roommate was pissing me off too much.

Duran Duran, Decade, released 15 November 1989. Their first official greatest hits record was absolutely perfect collection of their hit singles in chronological order that proves just how amazing this band was throughout the 80s. Even if you had every album and single they’d put out, you wanted this because it was such a great mix.

The Creatures, Boomerang, released 22 November 1989. Siouxsie and Budgie’s side project away from the Banshees always focused more on the musical styles that their main band couldn’t (or wouldn’t) quite pull off, and this one delves deep into a lot of different styles like jazz and even a bit of flamenco. I got to meet the two of them at Newbury Comics in Harvard Square when they did a signing!

Severed Heads, Rotund for Success, released 22 November 1989. This was one of my most favorite finds during my freshman year, picked up used at Nuggets in Kenmore Square. They were one of those bands I was familiar with (thanks to 120 Minutes) but never owned anything as I could never find their stuff. I bought this only on the strength of having heard the single “Greater Reward” at some point, and I completely fell in love with it. This became one of my Walkman go-tos when I was heading home on the train for the weekend. The band isn’t for everyone, but this record certainly is, and I highly recommend it.

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More to come — when the end of the year brings hope for change, however desperate it may be.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years II

One month into my college years and of course I was already thinking, what the fuck have I gotten myself into? It was a perfect storm of harsh truths and brutal realizations: I clearly was not programmed for academia, or at least never properly trained for it (or, as I would figure out much later in life, unaware that I could find mental and emotional workarounds that would help me make it all work). People similar to my closest friends in high school (aka the Vanishing Misfits) were nowhere to be found in this school full of budding actors, writers and filmmakers already imagining themselves the next maverick auteur. Any creativity I tried to bring to the table was met with side-eyes and wincingly seen as hardly original. [And see, this is precisely why I eye-roll like mad whenever I see the latest theoretical discourse and debate on Twitter. Because I’ve already witnessed enough of this kind of self-aggrandizing horseshit for one lifetime, thank you very much.]

I can definitely see what direction I was heading in with the poems and lyrics I was writing at the time…I’d gone past the Cure-like gothic doom and straight into the unfiltered fuck-you of punk at that point. My other mistake here was that I’d used my long-distance relationship as an anchor to keep me sane. I always treated T with love and kindness, but damn I am so surprised she never slapped me upside the head and told me to grow the fuck up.

ANYWAY. I had a lot of shit to contend with, a lot of life lessons to catch up on, and a spiral of self-triggered depression to slide into. I always did my best to keep my head above water and found whatever distractions I could to keep me from getting any worse. And thankfully, the music was there to help.

Jesus Jones, Liquidizer, released 1 October 1989. No one really knew what to make of this band’s wild mix of industrial, dance and hard rock at first, other than it was noisy and you could dance to it. Most everyone’s familiar with “Right Here Right Now” but there’s so much more to this band than what you expect. Their first album is much more twitchy and aggressive but also a really fun listen.

Galaxie 500, On Fire, released 1 October 1989. Well before Dean Wareham started Luna, he was one third of this proto-quietcore band out of the Boston area that became the favorite of all the local college radio stations. Their spin was that their music often took on a hazy, almost psychedelic feel.

The Jesus + Mary Chain, Automatic, released 9 October 1989. Their third album (fourth if you count the b’s-and-rarities Barbed Wire Kisses from 1988) took them in an altogether different direction, seriously toning down the feedback and ramping up the beats. They kept the volume, though, and it ended up making this album a huge hit.

Lush, Scar EP, released 9 October 1989. It all started here for this band, a six-track record that took the time-honored 4AD sound and vision (dreamy melodies, heavy on the reverb, 23 Envelope cover, natch) and ramped up the volume. This was a label changing from its chamber-pop high and into a new sonic landscape. I remember hearing “Scarlet” on WZBC (Boston College’s station) for the first time and being completely blown away by it…I headed to Tower Records the very next day and bought the cassette!

The Blue Nile, Hats, released 16 October 1989. I remember my first shift at WECB, Emerson’s AM station (with the reach of just our dorms at the time), “The Downtown Lights” was one of the tunes on the rotation I had to play, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The band are kind of a peculiar mix of 80s adult pop sheen, smooth jazz and new wavey synthpop, but they pull it off wonderfully.

Erasure, Wild!, released 16 October 1989. Their follow-up to The Innocents was far more club-oriented and while it may not have been as memorable as some of their previous albums, it’s certainly enjoyable. Early in 1990 I saw this band for the first time at the Orpheum in downtown Boston and they put on an absolutely ridiculous and super fun show that I still think about from time to time!

Kate Bush, The Sensual World, released 17 October 1989. I was late in getting into her music (I didn’t own anything of hers until her hits collection The Whole Story) but I did get this one soon after it was released. It kind of reminds me of U2’s Unforgettable Fire in that I feel a sort of self-contained warmth when I listen to it. It’s a mature and low-key record that’s got some fantastic songs on it.

The Smithereens, 11, released 18 October 1989. The Jersey band’s third record (its name and album cover hinting at Ocean’s Eleven) is just as powerful and energetic as their previous — and they’re still downtuning their guitars a half-step here — but so many of these songs are just begging to be cranked up. [And if the lyrics to “A Girl Like You” sound familiar, it’s because the song was originally written for the John Cusack movie Say Anything but not used as it pretty much gave the entire plot away!]

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, released 20 October 1989. If there’s one album that bridges the gap between my life in the late 80s and what was to come in the early 90s, it’s this one. An album so full of spite, pain, depression and desperation that distilled what I was feeling at the time, all wrapped up in one record. And when they came to town in November to play on Landsdowne Street just outside Kenmore Square, I was there in the mosh pit, pissed off and needing to bleed it all out of my system. I would often return to this one album whenever I knew I was veering towards the darker side of my moods. And believe me, I returned to it a lot for a few years there.

Men Without Hats, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released 30 October 1989. After the surprising popularity if 1987’s Pop Goes the World and its title track, the Hats followed up with another AOR-level popfest that might not exactly be chartworthy but goes in some really interesting and unexpected directions, including the pro-feminist anti-abuse single “Hey Men” and a fascinating cover of ABBA’s “SOS”.

The Psychedelic Furs, Book of Days, released 30 October 1989. The Furs closed out their stellar 80s run with a heavy, murky record full of tension and discomfort, but it features some of my favorite later-era songs of theirs as well, including the above. [TW: the video has a lot of strobe effects.]

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More to come soon!

WIS Presents: The Boston Years I

I’ve been putting this off for years, and I think it’s high time: let’s take an extended look at the music that I listened to in my five years while living in Boston, from September 1989 to August 1995. That’s five years’ worth of music, so this one’s going to take quite a lot of time. Which is fine, because I’ve been wanting to revisit a lot of these!

Some of these albums will have good memories tied to them. Some of them won’t. Some of them will just be background soundtracks while others will have deep personal meaning. It was five rollercoaster years of good and bad, and I think it’s high time I made peace with them.

I started Emerson College in the fall of 1989, living on the third floor (room 306) of Charlesgate, the tall former hotel that sits on the corner of Beacon and Charlesgate East, just a few blocks east of Kenmore Square. This was back when the school’s campus — such as it was — was situated at the other end of Back Bay, at the intersection of Beacon and Berkeley. I’d take the school shuttle from one end to the other most days, but walking the length (just under a mile) wasn’t so bad either.

Mind you, I was going in with good intentions that may have been extremely rose-colored and innocently hopeful, and it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d expected. I was hoping for a cool roomie with excellent tastes in college rock and ended up with a somewhat rude hipster that merely tolerated me. I was trying to maintain a pre-internet long-distance relationship that I too often became overdependent on. My so-so grades remained so-so (most likely a mix of ADD-like distraction, depression and not really knowing how to study properly), and I was perpetually broke.

On the plus side? I’d brought my bass with me and practiced on that thing like no tomorrow. I used some of my spare time writing outtakes and comic strips. And I could easily head home for the weekend just by jumping on the train at North Station. That’s the one thing I remember the most during those years: those trips home to clear my brain and reset my mood, and coming back on Sunday evening refreshed for another round.

Love and Rockets, Love and Rockets, released 4 September 1989. Their fourth album was a distinct change from their previous three, veering away from the dreamlike acoustics and hippie psychedelia and heading straight for noisy post-punk of the Jesus & Mary Chain variety. While the teaser single “So Alive” — the first L&R single to hit the American charts and kickstarting an alternative renaissance just a few years before grunge took over — was a pure pop song, the rest of the album went from the anger of “**** (Jungle Law)” to the boisterous groove of “Motorcycle” and back. It’s an odd album, but it’s definitely a good one.

Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie, released 5 September 1989. This was kinda sorta CVB’s swan song for the 80s, as lead singer David Lowery headed off to form the very successful Cracker. (They didn’t really brake up so much as go on hiatus, sneaking out a few songs here and there on the interim.) This was also another good example of a well-loved indie band vanishing just as its popularity was rising and had joined a semi-major label (Virgin).

Soundgarden, Louder Than Love, released 5 September 1989. Well before Superunknown and even Badmotorfinger, these PNW guys were making their way through their original sludge-metal sound and heading from indie label SST to major A&M Records. It was definitely not in my wheelhouse at the time — I was still deeply immersed in the slightly less angry post-punk/college rock soundscape — but after giving it a few listens courtesy of my freshman year college roommate, it grew on me.

Big Audio Dynamite, Megatop Phoenix, released 5 September 1989. This can kind of be considered the last album of the first BAD phase, before the 1990 band member shuffling, and on its own it’s a stellar achievement. While it’s not as experimental as their previous records, every song is a banger and it remains one of my favorites.

Julee Cruise, Floating Into the Night, released 12 September 1989. It is fascinating how this project stemmed from David Lynch’s inability to snag the rights to This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” for his movie Blue Velvet. A few years and a theme song for a truly weird TV show later, Cruise debuted with this absolutely glorious album of extreme delicateness. And “Falling” really is a lovely song, even after all these years.

Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule, 19 September 1989. Lenny’s first album was a huge hit on WFNX, its title track getting immediate heavy rotation. I was drawn to this album because it refused to be pigeonholed into one specific genre — it could fit just as easily on alternative radio as it could on pop and R&B stations — and his songcraft was absolutely stellar from the first song.

The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!, released 20 September 1989. Their sophomore follow-up to the career-defining Life’s Too Good suffered a little by being overly long and containing a few filler tunes, but in retrospect it really is a good album despite that.

The Mighty Lemon Drops, Laughter, released 20 September 1989. The follow-up to the band’s fantastic World Without End sounds more polished and mature, and contains some absolutely lovely tracks, including their biggest hit “Where Do We Go from Heaven” which has been described as their take on The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”.

Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love, released 25 September 1989. Their third album, coming four years after their smash Songs from the Big Chair, led them in some new directions: psychedelic pop, and soul. “Sowing the Seeds of Love” borrows heavily from The Beatles, while the moving “Woman in Chains” is a stunning single that became one of their most popular later hits.

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That’s quite a month to start off my college years, yeah? I remember I bought most of these up the street in Kenmore Square, either at Nuggets (back when they were in a musty basement) or at Planet Records just up the block. Suffice it to say, I knew that living right down the street from a shopping district that would certainly take all my money and then some was going to be a dangerous thing. Did that stop me, though…? Heh.

Stay tuned, maybe we might even make it to the end of 1989…?

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part III)

ELO effectively broke up in July of 1986 once Jeff Lynne’s contractual obligations were over, and he spent the next several years working closely with many of his musical friends as a producer. His biggest project was with ex-Beatle George Harrison on his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine. George himself hadn’t released a record in five years (the last being 1982’s meandering Gone Troppo) and what better than to introduce his new sound with someone who knew exactly how his former band sounded? It definitely has Lynne’s signature sound all over it, but it only complements Harrison’s new fresh sound. It was a huge hit and remains a favorite — and its first single “Got My Mind Set On You” still gets occasional airplay. Its second single, a nod to Harrison’s younger years in the Beatles, is a perfect mix of Harrison psychedelia and Lynne dreaminess.

Harrison enjoyed the success of his album and had been planning to record a b-side with a few of his musician friends, including Lynne, but the end result was so fun and radio-friendly that they made a full album together under the name The Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Lynne and Petty were the youngest in the group and it must have blown their minds to be working so closely with their musical heroes. They would record two records together.

But Lynne was only getting started. He’d also worked with Orbison solo on his Mystery Girl album, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and wrote several songs for others. And in 1990 he released his first solo album, Armchair Theatre, and in 1991 he worked with Petty again with the Heartbreakers album Into the Great Wide Open, which became one of the band’s biggest sellers.

And then he got to work with the Beatles, his favorite band ever.

In 1994, when Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reconvened to work on the Anthology project, they’d had in mind that they’d record some new music under the hallowed name — the first new music by the band in twenty-five years — and Lynne was a perfect choice. He knew and understood their sound and could co-produce it without stepping on anyone’s shoes, history or egos. The plan was to take three songs that John Lennon had written and recorded in rough demo form in the late 70s, with Yoko Ono’s blessings. Two songs were recorded, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”, and both were huge hits and added to the official discography.

Lynne would keep busy through the rest of the decade continuing his production and songwriting work, with the likes of Tom Jones, Roger McGuinn, Joe Cocker, and Paul McCartney on his Flaming Pie record.

Meanwhile…the rest of the band did not disappear from view. Drummer Bev Bevan, bassist Kelly Groucutt and violintist Mik Kaminski created their own version of the ELO brand with Electric Light Orchestra Part II, with vocals provided by Eric Troyer. While not exactly a chart success, they did retain the classic pop-with-strings ELO sound, and the albums are worth checking out. Bevan would leave the line-up after the second album, but Troyer and Kaminski have continued the project under its new name, The Orchestra, which is still alive and thriving as a touring band.

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Coming soon: Part IV, in which Lynne revives the ELO name once again, with several compilations and new recordings!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part II)

…not to be confused with the Lynne-less ELO Part II, led by longtime drummer Bev Bevan, of course…more on that in a few. ANYWAY!

After the middling success of Discovery — while a strong and solid album, many critics felt it was a bit too poppy and dance-friendly — Jeff Lynne and the band were asked to write several songs for what was initially a lower-budget roller-disco movie somewhat inspired by an old classic called Down to Earth, about an otherworldly muse that comes down from the heavens to inspire a down-on-his-luck artist. After several rewrites, the addition of Olivia Newton-John in the muse role and Gene Kelly as the artist’s mentor and friend, Xanadu dropped in late June 1980 as a fun cheeseball summer flick. The movie bombed severely for many reasons (an extremely wobbly script for one, and supremely cheesy effects for another), but its soundtrack, featuring ONJ songs on one side and ELO songs on the other, remains a classic. And yes, it is considered a so-bad-it’s-great cult classic. You’ve got to love the terrible 80s-ness of it all:

…although there is the saving grace of a wonderful Don Bluth-animated sequence!

Regardless of its utter cheesiness, nine-year-old me was utterly obsessed with the movie and the soundtrack. Its magical-girl-from-another-world story fascinated me and even then inspired me to want to write a story like that. It would take me multiple decades to do so, of course, but that was one of the many movies that jumpstarted my interest in writing fiction.

So. What do you do to follow up something like that? Well, you return to your classic prog tendencies and write another concept album, of course! Time was Lynne’s foray into pure science fiction, about a man wakes up to find himself over a hundred years into the future with no way of returning, and trying to make sense of the world he’s been sent to. It’s not a weird album compared to other ELO records, but it definitely stuck out from most other records of the era. It’s not the most popular, but it’s universally loved by many fans. And if anything, it’s got a hell of a great rockin’ first single, “Hold On Tight”.

Its second single, “Twilight”, stalled in the mid-30s on the UK and US charts, but two years later it would reach cult status as the unauthorised soundtrack for the opening animation for DAICON IV, a science fiction convention in Osaka, Japan. [The fledgling animators themselves, including Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame, would soon create the well-known anime studio Gainax.] This film has become so iconic and popular that in 2005 for the TV version of the popular Densha Otoko (Train Man), the animated opening credits is a nod to the original.

[As I’ve mentioned before, both Xanadu and Time were a major influence and inspiration for my novel In My Blue World. Part of the idea for it came from my melding the two album’s themes together — the magical girl changing fate and the mental strain of time travel — and both albums got significant play while I wrote it. If you are interested, the e-book is available at Smashwords.]

In 1983, Lynne wished to release a double album, but the US label (CBS) nixed the idea and released the one-disc Secret Messages instead. This is a very underrated album in that it doesn’t get nearly as much love as most of ELO’s earlier albums, but it is extremely enjoyable and contains quite a few strong tunes such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” and the title song. I highly suggest checking out the 2018 reissue that returns the album to its double-disc original idea and gives it an even stronger flow.

Lynne would then spend the next couple of years working as a producer for other musicians and bands, including Dave Edmunds (including his surprise hit “Slipping Away”), the Everly Brothers and ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog, as well as providing music for another quirky film called Electric Dreams, before reconvening with ELO on 1986’s Balance of Power. Essentially a contractual obligation album for his label, it’s not one of their strongest records and is often overlooked due to its slick sound and lack of popular singles, but it does contain the catchy single “Calling America”, which did get considerable airplay regardless.

ELO, for all intents and purposes, disbanded at the end of 1986 after a minor tour. Lynne jumped full-time into music production…and unexpected major success working with one of his childhood heroes on not one but three projects!

*

Coming next Tuesday: post-ELO solo and production work, revisiting old classics, and rebuilding the band – twice!

Mixtape: ‘Does Truth Dance Does Truth Sing: The Singles 1988’

I’ve definitely talked and written a lot about 1988, considering it was a high point in my teen years socially and emotionally, as well as creatively. Everything just fell into place in a positive way. I knew this feeling wouldn’t last, but I chose to embrace it and let it lift me up while it lasted, and I’m glad I did. I used to return to those memories sometimes out of desperation, especially during my mid-90s slump, but nowadays I can return to them with fondness and maybe a bit of amazement. I really did have a lot more personal clarity then than I thought I did, and I sometimes use that as a reminder of how to live in the present.

I’d been making proto-mixtapes for years taping stuff off the radio, but 1988 was when I made the deep dive into the alchemical science of creating personal mixes. And since 1988 had been not just a personal high but a musical high as well, I was determined to celebrate that with a year-end mix. This was my first attempt at a multi-tape (non-radio tape) mix of this kind.

DTDDTS: The Singles 1988 is admittedly not my best mix work, as I was still feeling my way in making these things. It sort of rambles halfway through and drifts to a close with a sigh rather than a cheer…my mistake was overloading the first tape with so many great songs! (Whenever I listened to it I usually stuck with that first tape.) It does kind of redeem itself near the end, though, and in retrospect, I think it mirrors my mood at the time: once my friends left for college, the last couple of months of the year weren’t nearly as exciting or positive for me. Still: I do like this mix, and it contains so many songs that have remained personal favorites for years.

Side Notes:
–Most of these songs were sourced from original albums or singles, but several on Sides E and F were lifted from recent 120 Minutes episodes or taped off WAMH or WMDK. There are a lot of album cuts on this one, which really shows how closely I was listening to a lot of these albums.
–I made several “reissue” versions of this over the years, partly to fix the flow but also to add more songs that I’d left off or replace songs I no longer had in my collection. (I have in fact created digital versions of all of them.) This playlist is the original created 27 December 1988 during Christmas vacation.
–The title comes from the last song on Side B, “A Public Place” by Wire. Years later in 2013 I named a year-end mix ‘We Sing and Dance as We Go: The Singles’ after another Wire then-current lyric. Sort of a personal 25th anniversary thing, I suppose.
–This contains exactly one Flying Bohemians song which is thankfully not on Spotify as it is embarrassing as it is hilarious. Why I didn’t use “Night” or one of our better tracks, I’m not sure. “Nothing Spectacular” was me and Chris fucking around on guitars and making a hash out of a moody 80s riff, with Jim H scratching one of Natan’s Van Halen records while he was in the other room. Chris provides an amazingly torturous guitar solo.
–I put my favorite song ever at the time, The Church’s ‘Under the Milky Way’, on Side A Track 5. When I revived the year-end mixes in the 45-minutes-a-side format in 2013, I also revived that as well. My favorite song of that particular year will always have that spot.

SIDE A:

1. Morrissey, “Will Never Marry”
2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “The Mercy Seat”
3. Jane’s Addiction, “Jane Says”
4. Front 242, “Headhunter (Version 1.0)”
5. The Church, “Under the Milky Way”
6. The Primitives, “Crash”
7. The Godfathers, “When Am I Coming Down”
8. The Timelords, “Doctorin’ the Tardis”
9. The Smithereens, “Only a Memory”
10. Peter Murphy, “All Night Long”

SIDE B:

1. Siouxsie & the Banshees, “Peek-a-Boo”
2. The Sugarcubes, “Coldsweat”
3. Cocteau Twins, “Carolyn’s Fingers”
4. ‘Til Tuesday, “(Believed You Were) Lucky”
5. They Might Be Giants, “Ana Ng”
6. Camouflage, “The Great Commandment”
7. Erasure, “Chains of Love”
8. The Art of Noise feat. Tom Jones, “Kiss”
9. Information Society, “Running”
10. Wire, “A Public Place”

SIDE C:

1. Ministry, “Stigmata”
2. Grace Pool, “Out of the Wild”
3. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Sidewalking”
4. Morrissey, “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
5. Shriekback, “Dust and a Shadow”
6. The Flying Bohemians, “Nothing Spectacular” *
7. A House, “Call Me Blue”
8. Information Society, “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)”
9. REM, “Orange Crush”
10. Cocteau Twins, “Blue Bell Knoll”
11. Pet Shop Boys, “Always On My Mind”

SIDE D:

1. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “What I Am”
2. Big Pig, “Breakaway”
3. The Mighty Lemon Drops, “Inside Out” *
4. In-D, “Virgin In-D Sky’s”
5. Peter Murphy, “Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It”
6. The Psychedelic Furs, “All That Money Wants”
7. Midnight Oil, “The Dead Heart”
8. Stump, “Charlton Heston”
9. Dr Calculus, “Full of Love” *
10. Sinéad O’Connor, “Never Get Old”
11. Shriekback, “Go Bang”

SIDE E:

1. Pixies, “Gigantic”
2. Graham Parker, “Get Started, Start a Fire”
3. Camper Van Beethoven, “Turquoise Jewelry” *
4. Crowded House, “Mansion in the Slums”
5. Living Colour, “Cult of Personality”
6. The Godfathers, “Birth, School, Work, Death”
7. Sonic Youth, “Within You, Without You”
8. The Church, “Reptile”
9. Joy Division, “Atmosphere”
10. The Primitives, “I’ll Stick with You”
11. Wire, “Kidney Bingos”

SIDE F:

1. New Order, “Fine Time”
2. Marc Almond, “Tears Run Rings”
3. The Fall, “New Big Prinz”
4. Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane”
5. Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, “My Bag”
6. The Feelies, “Away” *
7. Hunters & Collectors, “Back On the Breadline”
8. Sparks, “So Important”
9. Hugh Cornwell, “Another Kind of Love” *
10. Ministry, “Flashback”
11. Morrissey, “Suedehead”
12. Information Society, “Make It Funky”

* — Not available on Spotify, but I’ve added the YouTube link if it’s available.

Favorite Albums: Think Tree, ‘eight/thirteen’

I never really got along with my freshman year roommate in college for various reasons and we rarely had anything in common except certain tastes in music. We both leaned heavily towards college radio and things alternative. He was quite a bit more into the indie scene than I was — he went to all the shows whereas I was just fine sitting alone on my bed with the headphones on listening to it — but occasionally our paths crossed and we introduced each other to different bands.

Think Tree was one of his favorites that he foisted upon me pretty early on, and I loved them immediately. They were a local Boston band that defied any easy description; they seemed to embrace the same gloomy semi-industrial sound of Nine Inch Nails (but without the apocalyptic nihilism), the off-kilter humor and weirdness of Butthole Surfers (but without all the body-horror jokes) and maybe even a bit of the musical ubernerdiness of Wire (but without getting too arty about it).

“Hire a Bird” was their first official single, dropped at the tail end of 1989, and it was a huge favorite of the college radio stations, as well as both WBCN and WFNX, who had always gone out of their way to champion any local band with pride. It’s definitely a weird song but it’s catchy as hell. Singer Peter Moore delivers his vocals with an affected hillbilly grampaw lisp (something he’d do for most of their first album and live sets), over a bed of Will Ragano’s acoustic guitar, Jeff Beigert’s popping percussion, and the samples and synths of Paul Lanctot and Krishna Venkatesh. The resulting din is so off-kilter yet weaves around itself so perfectly that it works. And surprisingly, the song is a highly poetic sermon about the dangers of environmental disaster, with a semi-hopeful ‘at least we’re trying to fix it all’ chorus. The final sample that ends the song, lifted from the football game scene in Robert Altman’s MASH and taken completely out of context to underscore the song’s theme (‘we are our own enemy’), was the icing on the cake.

It took nearly a full year for the band to finish off and release their first album eight/thirteen, but it was highly anticipated by the local fans and stations. Record delays are always a dangerous thing, because when they are finally released, the scene that the record would easily fit into often no longer exists in that form. There are so many excellent albums out there that never quite reach their full potential due to fans having moved onto the next sound or scene. [This, alas, would happen to Think Tree themselves when they spent nearly two years between this and their second album Like the Idea, which is great on its own yet failed to find interest in a scene now obsessed with grunge and Britpop.]

The songs of eight/thirteen feature the best of their live set of 1988-90, hitting all their heights and highlighting their car-crash style. Sometimes it’s serious and gloomy, other times it’s funny and poppy, sometimes it’s both at once. Songs like “The Lovers” are goth dance, while songs like “Memory Protect” hint at the sample-heavy clang of Einsturzende Neubauten or Test Dept.

I got to see Think Tree a few times live during my college years, and I firmly believe that was their best platform, as they put on a raucous, hilarious, and completely bonkers show every single time. You never knew what was going to happen, or what the hell Moore was going to sing or chant about next (he had a brilliant ability to riff a wild fire-and-brimstone sermon like a demented Elmer Gantry, especially on songs like live favorite “The Word”). They would sing about prehistoric monsters (‘Iguanodon’), strong women of the wild west (1992 single ‘Rattlesnake’) and the strangeness of religions (‘Holy Cow’, another live favorite with its wonderful chorus “you worship the thing that goes moo!”) and whatever else they could think of and make it sound both freakish and fun at the same time. It was like watching a band that would have fit perfectly on The Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Album closer “The Moon” (formerly the b-side to the “Hire a Bird” single) is a perfect example of this.

Moore has recently dropped a few Bandcamp releases from the band over the years, with two live rarities albums in 2020 and a demos-and-b-sides rarities album this year (fittingly, all of them dropped on August 13). eight/thirteen is still available for streaming and downloading elsewhere, though Like the Idea is still a bit harder to get due to it having been released on Caroline Records. Most of their songs are available on YouTube, alongside a few interesting rarities like a Dutch TV appearance. Moore would continue his musical career (and his musical oddness) under the name Count Zero and even popped up as a bandmate for Blue Man Group! This album does remain quite the oddity but it’s still one of my favorites from my college years.